A few years back I took a trip to Texas with Bill Clinton. It was not a fun trip. Clinton is pathologically self-referential and by the time he’d repeated the phrase, “Let me tell you one more clever thing I said when I did something bad,” for the eleventy-twelfth time, I was ready to leave him by the side of the road in Alabama.
I sputtered at the car CD player (which is where books-on-tape lived before they became books-on-Audible…did I mention Clinton was on the CD and not in the car?), “I don’t care if the name of your book IS My Life (it was). I’m sick of your neediness, sick of your excuses, and I don’t want you in the car with me. You’re a smart guy. I get it. I’d love to hear you talk more about Middle East policy, politics, economic development. That’s all great stuff. But quit whining!” I eventually forgave him and let the CD keep running. Kind of like America did with his presidency. But, man, that was a painful 25 hours across the South!
Which brings me to Paul Theroux and his travel book, Deep South – one more long trip across a land I love to travel with one more companion I was fixing to pitch out of the car. Theroux played in my car off and on for six months. A noted travel writer, he begins his book by saying, in effect, “Hey, there’s nowhere else for me to go, so I guess I’ll go to the South.”
Perhaps it’s just my own defensiveness as a progressive Southerner that saw condescension in that statement (and many others). Theroux owns his unabashed New England perspective and writes with a blunt honesty that could be virtuous, but it didn’t keep me from thinking on many occasions that I should be reaching for his carpetbag to send him home.
Why did I stick with him? Well, he traveled back roads to the same sort of places I’ve haunted and I kept hoping I’d find some insight or common ground. I mean, the man went to Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, Mississippi, for heaven’s sake! That would have rated a major chapter for me, but he lets it go with a cursory glance.
His other sins? Theroux denigrates every Southern writer except Clinton Portis (True Grit). He’s scathing on the Gothic writers and thinks Faulkner falls short. Plus, he believes that Southerners don’t read. He repeats himself. (He really needs an editor). He goes to gun shows… frequently…even after he’s decided they’re thin gruel for entertainment or commentary. And he says, multiple times, that the whole region reminds him of Africa. Plus, he repeats himself.
I know. I know. I could commend his attention to race issues or creative poverty initiatives. I’m not being fair. But, hey, he started it!
If I’m hot and bothered by Theroux, perhaps it is because I believe that the South deserves so much better – not only from travel writers, but from its own politicians, its churches, and, yes, even its writers. There is art and spirit to be wrung from this land and its history, and country songs that amount to a list of pick-up trucks, barefoot women, and fishing poles don’t qualify. All of which means that maybe I’m flustered with Paul because he reminds me that I’ve got work to do.
[My thanks to my colleagues in the 2016 Better World Reading Challenge who give me an excuse to write about books!]
by Paul Theroux
Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Alex Joyner is a writer and pastor on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. His most recent book is A Space for Peace in the Holy Land [Englewood Review, 2014], which, as he writes this he realizes, is kind of a travel book, too, that is probably being trashed by Israeli and Palestinian reviewers who feel he has hopelessly mischaracterized the region.
Calling all fans of Streetlight and contributors past and present.
If you are a fan of Streetlight or if you have ever had a story, poem, or piece of art published in Streetlight (both print or on-line versions) join Streetlight Lamplighter’s social network and forum and become a lamplighter.
I am a lamplighter.
Lamplighters unite! This call goes out to all artists and writers. When the nice people at SL agreed to let me author this post, they expected a piece exalting the virtues of an art community. They won’t be disappointed. But there is a twist.
I’m a cave dweller happiest in front of my laptop. Whether, like me, you avert your eyes awkwardly in the company of anyone not named Scrivener or Gesso, or know everyone in Manhattan by name, this goes to you. As long as you can navigate your way to Streetlight Magazine. Come, join us. We flicker separately; together, we will make light.
When God created the Internet, he made sure to start more interest groups, bulletin boards and fora than there are selfie sticks in Times Square. Our tower of Babel, it makes having another’s ear easy. But the heart? Next to impossible.
At the risk of adding to the chaos, we will create another forum. We will call it the Lamplighter. To join, one must arrive at the proper Streetlight Magazine link ready to share enthusiasm, knowledge and good will. We hope to find a common tongue in our shared experiences and continue to grow both in size and the closeness of our bonds. Give it a chance. What have you got to lose?
If you’re wondering what to do after you register, here are some suggestions:
Let us know about your website or blog; put a link in your profile description.
Tell the Streetlight community if you’ve had your writing or art appear on our website (which issue? title?)
Fill out your profile and upload a fun profile pic.
Join the Lamplighter group and start a topic in the forum.
Karol Lagodzki left Poland in his late teens and has called the United States home for over two decades. His fascination with the “why” of human behavior led him to study sociology and psychology. He’s a self-taught inventor and has several mechanical and electronic patents. In his writing, he draws heavily on personal experiences and training. He has recently finished a novel about an errant prophet set in ancient Canaan, Anatolia and Egypt, and is at work on a book about the human genome project taken a step too far. You can follow him at www.klagodzki.com.
See who’s in focus at this year’s Look3 Festival of the Photograph, June 13 through 19 in Charlottesville.
One of 11 featured artists, National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting launches the week with his natural history images hanging from the TREES on the downtown mall. Showing the world through animals’ eyes, Lanting says his mission is to use photography to help create leverage for conservation efforts from local initiatives to global campaigns. He’ll discuss his mission at 7:30-9 p.m. Wednesday June 15 at the Paramount Theater. “No one turns animals into art more completely than Frans Lanting,” says The New Yorker.
Since 2001, fine art photographer Nick Brandt has been documenting the vanishing natural world and animals of East Africa through haunting portraits of elephants, giraffes, lions, gorillas and rhinos. In a series of panoramas, he’s recorded man’s impact where animals used to roam. In each location, Brandt erected life size panels of his animal portraits, setting the panels within a world of explosive urban development and toxic wasteland to raise awareness of the fragility of wild animals and the destruction of the natural world. His arresting, wide views are published in Inherit The Dust and will be exhibited at the McGuffey Arts Center. Brandt will discuss his work with author Vicki Goldberg, 7:30-9 p.m. on Thursday June 16 at the Paramount. Goldberg’s books include The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives andLight Matters: Writings on Photography.
Graciela Iturbide, a premier artist of Latin America, will make a rare public appearance at LOOK3. She will speak in her native Spanish –English translation provided– from 5 to 6:30 Friday June 17 at the Paramount. Iturbide won the 2008 Hasselblad Foundation award with due praise: “Graciela Iturbide has developed a photographic style based on her strong interest in culture, ritual and everyday life in her native Mexico and other countries. Iturbide has extended the concept of documentary photography to explore the relationships between man and nature, the individual and the cultural, the real and the psychological. She continues to inspire a younger generation of photographers in Latin America and beyond.” Naturata can be seen at Neal Guma Fine Art, 105 3rd Street NE.
Former TIME Magazine photographer Christopher Morris will speak on War Politics Fashion with Mary Anne Golon, Director of Photography at The Washington Post at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 18 at the Paramount. Beginning his career as a documentary conflict photographer, Morris “redefined political coverage in America” covering the White House from 2000 until 2009, and further expanding his portfolio to include work from the world of fashion.
Six emerging artists will also showcase their latest projects. At 22, Olivia Bee is the youngest artist to join Look3’s roster. Bee established her career by sharing photographs largely focused on her own life and that of her friends on social media. Her first monograph, Olivia Bee: Kids in Love, was recently published by Aperture. Bee will join photographers Binh Danh, Mary Calvert, and Ruddy Roye in talks from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, June 17 at the Paramount. Bee’s photos can be seen at the New City Arts Welcome Gallery, 114 3rd Street, NE. New York Magazine described Bee’s work as “dreamy, seventies-inspired photographs of maybe-wasted, increasingly famous young people who just want to have fun.”
Mary F. Calvert, an independent photojournalist committed to using photography to affect meaningful social change, is known for producing work on under-reported and neglected gender based, human rights issues. She believes that journalists have “a duty to shine a light into the deepest recesses of the human experience and provide a mirror for society to examine itself.” Among others on stage from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., June 17 at the Paramount, Calvert won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award twice and is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist in Feature Photography. Missing in Action: Homeless Female Veterans can be seen at the Pop Gallery, 306 East Main Street.
Radcliffe “Ruddy” Roye’s talk, “When Living is a Protest,” also will be part of the June 17 program from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Paramount. Roye uses his camera as a tool that allows him to document the world around him as he sees it. “Photography is finding a piece of me in the eyes or essence of everyone and everything I photograph. It has always been a collaborative effort,” says Roye.
In 2013 while photographing under-recognized living leaders of the Civil Rights movement, Sheila Pree Bright made a connection between young social activists taking a stand against the same struggles their parents and grandparent endured during the 1960’s. Her project 1960Now examines race, gender and generational divides to raise awareness of millennial perspectives on civil and human rights. 1960Now reveals a photographic portrait series of emerging young leaders affiliated with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Bright and photographers Doug DuBois and Joe Riis will share to Paramount stage from 11 am. to 1 p.m. June 18. 960Now also will be on display at the African American Heritage Center, Jefferson School, 233 4th Street, NW.
Also on June 18 from 11 to 1, Doug DuBois will show his project, My Last Day At Seventeen, described as “capturing the bravado and adventure of childhood with an eye towards its fragility and inevitable loss.” DuBois shot over five years in the town of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland. “My idea,” says DuBois, “was to contemplate the threshold that marks the time between childhood and the advent of adult responsibilities.” His photos will be exhibited at the New City Arts Welcome Gallery, 114 3rd St. NE.
Binh Danh’sReflections in the National Parks, are created as full-plate daguerrotypes, celebrating the Centennial of the Parks while honoring the history of photography and its giants whose images of the natural world helped establish public recreational lands. Danh will join Olivia Bee and Sheila Pree Bright from 11 to 1 on June 18 at the Paramount. “My sense is that our special connection with the national parks comes from the fact that we’re a nation of immigrants,” says Danh. “We’re a nation of people for whom this is not our home, and the national parks are what anchor and root us on this continent. They are the meaning of home for many of us…”
Wildlife photojournalist and field biologist Joe Riis rounds out the June 18 morning line up. His Yellowstone Migrations, published in the current National Geographic, explores migrations of animals in the Greater Yellowstone region, highlighting science and research expeditions, connecting viewers to some of the most remote and rare wild animals on the planet. Binh Danh and Joe Riis exhibitions both will be in a pop up gallery at 111 E. Main Street (former Jean Theory store).
An expanded educational program will offer seminars on creativity and entrepreneurism for photographers at all levels. LOOK3 EDU kicks off on June 14th, with the free program, Photo District News: 30 Emerging Photographers Panel. The program continues on June 15th and 16th with Creativity Meets Technology and Artists Meet your Markets + LOOK3 PITCH seminars.
The also free, popular Evening Projections on Friday, June 17th at the Sprint Wireless Pavilion, will feature shows curated by the photo editors of TIME Magazine. On Saturday, June 18th, the Evening Projections shows will be presented by MediaStorm at the outdoor IX Art Park.
Imagine that, 20 years ago, my father and I were visiting my sister in her apartment. It was a warm, sunny day. My sister was making us ice tea. I was sitting in the living room with my father. He was complaining about his wife and her children. He said: Sometimes I want to take the gun out of the drawer and shoot the whole lot of them.
I thought, The gun, out of the drawer? Not a gun out of a drawer?
For another example, let us consider our former president Bill Clinton, and his statement –“ I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” I could say the emphasis was mine, but it was also his, when he said it those many years ago.
That statement, with his head waggling, and finger pointing, was shown over and over in news shows and documentaries of that period. But what if he had said, “I have not had sex with this woman”? That would sound friendlier, less condemning, innocently incredulous, even?. It would not imply that she was accusing him of something he didn’t do. What if he had said, “I have not had sex with any woman, (except my wife).” That would sound downright chaste, and not at all accusatory. It would deflect from his blaming her, to his making a simple statement about himself.
In short, articles speak volumes.
Adjectives also matter. Let us take Greta Garbo as an example. She is often quoted as saying, or having said, “I want to be alone,” (or, with an accent – I vant tu bee alohne).
Later, much later, when she actually was alone, I think it might have been in a Vanity Fair article, she refuted this statement. She said: “I never said I wanted to be left alone, I said I wanted to be let alone. There is a difference.”
And indeed there is. What is the difference? If she says she wants to be let alone, it implies that people are pestering her, bothering her, crowding her. If she says she wants to be left alone, that means everyone – that she wants to be totally alone.
So, adjectives and verbs matter too.
Laura Marello has written eleven books. Guernica Editions published Laura Marello’s second novel Tenants of the Hotel Biron in 2012 and her first novel Claiming Kin in 2010. Her third novel, Maniac Drifter, is forthcoming with Guernica in 2016. Tailwinds Press published Marello’sThe Gender of Inanimate Objects and Other Stories in 2015; it is shorlisted for the Saroyan Prize. Balzac Robe, chapbook forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, June 25th.
She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and a Fine Arts Work Center Provincetown Fellowship. She has benefited from residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Millay, Montalvo and Djerassi. 2nd Finalist in 2016 New Women’s Voices Award.
Around Washington people say Anacostia as a code word for poverty, crime, isolation. Many add in a low voice, “Don’t go there.” In fact, a city-wide website left it off the map entirely and pushed Virginia up into D.C..
I say, go to Anacostia in South East Washington while it is still a mostly black neighborhood with a rich history. Cross the Anacostia River, not something most white Washingtonians (including me) have often done. Walk along Martin Luther King Avenue and see the life sized posters pasted onto the walls, a kind of guerilla art project against gentrification and unwanted change. The neighborhood celebrates locally driven start-ups like The Turning Natural Juice Bar which recently had its ribbon-cutting, and the new cafe in the Anacostia Arts Center. Small business owners cluster in the basement incubator called The Hive 2.0.
When I started this project, the goal was to introduce the neighborhood and its people. It’s grown into much more.
I was given the name of the playwright John Johnson. I went to see him at his home in a cul-de-sac up Morris Road. After some conversation, he stood, strapped his 1-year-old daughter onto his chest and said, “Let’s take a walk.” We went up a steep hill and then over to an enormous church surrounded by open land.
“Turn around,” John said. And when I did, there was Washington laid out like a post card. I’d never seen the city from the east side of the river; no buildings blocking the view, just a blue sky and the sandstone Capitol, the granite and marble Washington Monument.
“This is what we have,” said John. “This is what they want.”
Those words led to many stories. Stories about what it feels like to live in an area rich with history that is being eyed by developers. The stories seemed to take charge and tell themselves.
My strategy was to get out of the way, an unusual tactic for a producer.
I gave digital recorders to John, Kymone Freeman and Schyla Pondexter-Moore, producers who live and work in the neighborhood. Within a month, they started sharing recordings of conversations that were intimate and vibrant and without a filter.
One of John’s neighbors talked about her Aunt Helen. “She’d sit in her window all day, watching everything and everybody. She’d say, “Hey. Whatcha doing? And she had a pad of paper by her, with her neighbors’ numbers. And she’d get on that rotary phone and call, if she saw anyone playing hooky, she’d call their parents.”
What I am learning is that Anacostia, while facing big changes is struggling to protect the creativity and strength that is taken for granted by its residents. People are tracking the change and taking actions to control it. The stories we’ve collected show that place matters; its scale and the unspoken rules shape its boundaries. And this is the map we need to follow.
Katie Davis is a longtime independent broadcast journalist based in Washington, D.C. She has been a producer, host and reporter for National Public Radio and a contributor to This American Life. Anacostia Unmapped is a national project of Localore from the Association of Independents in Radio. Funding comes from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. If you have any stories to add, contact anacostiaunmapped.com
I’d never owned a house before, and when I finally bought one in Lynchburg, I found that I enjoyed decorating it. The rooms would take on a life of their own, sometimes a history of their own as I began to decorate them. The dining room was painted a pale gold and cream, and when I unpacked a Louis chair for the living room that had matching gold striped upholstery and ebony stained wood, suddenly the room took on a personality, but one I didn’t like. Some old, fusty person had taken possession of the room. You can’t stay here! I shouted at the chair. You’re going in the living room. I moved the chair to the living room. When I went back into the dining room the old, fusty person was no longer in possession of the room. He had forfeited it back to me.
In the library, I had a similar experience. The room was painted a pale, silvery blue. It is a small room with slanted ceilings and a dormered window, and another small square window. It faces north and doesn’t get much light. I put in a taupe velvet sofa, in a modest ‘50s style, and a matching blue, cream and almond colored rug that had an interesting scroll design on it, not too fussy or insistent, but elegant and subtle. I used an iron lamp with an armillary base and white linen shade, and my old cherry file cabinet because it matched the almond in the rug. I positioned a copy of Hokusai’s Great Wave over the sofa (the colors matched perfectly); I hung Van Gogh’s Meadow with Cypress and his usual wild sky on the wall between the door and closet. Then I hung some artwork in silver frames: a 5×7 of the entwined couple blowing on Botticelli’s Venus on the shell, and another of a soulful woman in sepia tones – a Da Vinci maybe? And I bought Da Vinci’s naked man in the circle and square with his legs and arms spread out (I’m sure there’s a name for him) a copy on canvas with an ebony frame.
Somewhere in this process I started to feel the presence of an Italian explorer occupying the room. He was from the 1750s, from Florence or maybe Venice. He had traveled in ships, for a queen. He wanted a globe in the room, and an old wooden telescope. He wanted books and old maps. I framed some old maps and put them in, and bought him a hollow wooden telescope. I have not found his globe of the world yet, or if I have I haven’t purchased it. He wants me to take the Van Gogh and Hokusai down, and the Matisse (a later addition) but I won’t let him.
I imagine having conversations with him where we talk about why he has occupied the room, if he is staying, where he has traveled, who this girlfriend of his actually is, and if his love is requited or not (I get the feeling she grew tired of his long absences and found someone more landlocked).
Sometimes I think I will dismantle his room and re-create it in a way that does not include him, but I cannot bring myself to get rid of his girlfriend’s picture, or the Botticelli, the Da Vinci, or the telescope. He seems to have known Da Vinci when they were both in Florence.
Sometimes I wonder if, like Mrs. Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, I should ask the ghost/ship captain his name. I wonder if I should do some research and find out who he might be, or could have been. It occurs to me now that in addition to the globe he might want some nice silver or wooden boxes, or a chess set. A library ladder. The room does not do him justice, and yet he is there. Why?
Laura Marello has written eleven books. Guernica Editions published Laura Marello’s second novel Tenants of the Hotel Biron in 2012 and her first novel Claiming Kin in 2010. Her third novel, Maniac Drifter, is forthcoming with Guernica in 2016. Tailwinds Press published Marello’s The Gender of Inanimate Objects and Other Stories in 2015; it is shorlisted for the Saroyan Prize.
She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and a Fine Arts Work Center Provincetown Fellowship. She has benefited from residencies at MacDowell, Yaddo, Millay, Montalvo and Djerassi.
I have been thinking more and more about art in my life and the special appeal photography has for me, especially black and white images. We are assaulted daily with media and the volume can obscure the potential beauty of a simple, isolated image. Some photographs succeed as record of a special moment in time. My looking at photography is a good means to gain a bit of mindfulness in an otherwise jumbled calendar.
I like to quickly look at collections of photographs and bookmark those which arrest my attention. I then return to each photo and study it further, challenging myself to articulate what it is that causes me to prefer it above others. It may be noteworthy in its composition or the attraction to pattern or texture. It may also appeal to me as an example of allegory, something I am always looking for.
I enjoy the process of describing in words photographs I am drawn to. It is a challenge to articulate what a photograph possesses that gives it a special appeal. I do this for images made by accomplished photographers as well as those taken by me.
I like how this image is horizontally split, the way the foreground comes out toward you and the screening as background, suggesting a matrix through which we pass.
Our yellow cat Oskar is aging and beginning to show signs of decline. He is allowed in the house for morning feeding and can rest for short periods of time on the couch each evening while we watch a film together. He is no longer staying indoors through the night as he doesn’t understand how to use a litterbox. He remains in great physical shape but his mind is failing, an ominous potent as I consider what my reward for a long life might be. I can look at the cat and remember when we found him on our country road many years ago, the same size as the kitten in the photograph but starving and covered in fleas. Does he still retain a memory of walking behind his mother? Do I?
As I write: It is a spring morning and I am at my home near Rockfish Depot. I will be soon going to work. Outside, buds are swelling everywhere but only crocuses are in bloom. I look up and out my front window. A cluster of Tibetan Buddhist monks are walking up the road, their deep red robes looking beautiful in the morning light. I think about my good fortune to have their retreat center on Willoughby Mountain just up the road.
Michael Lachance has been a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent for the past 25 years, working with farmers from his office in Nelson County. He is a beekeeper, fruit enthusiast, and enjoys collecting insects associated with both agriculture and undisturbed habitats. His interests in insects, conservation, and biological control of crop pests have taken him on assignments about Virginia, Belize, Bangladesh, Egypt, and most recently, Tajikistan. He lives near Rockfish Depot, Virginia.
Art Unveiled in Nelson County
If Normandy Beach strollers were surprised by Anne Ferrer’s frolicking balloon sculpture, imagine guests’ anticipation for this year’s Virginia Center for the Creative Arts’ multi-media arts installation. Composites — a collaborative work by French visual artist Ferrer and American composer John Nichols III — will be unveiled Saturday May 14th at Pharsalia in Tyro, Virginia. The site-specific work will combine inflatable flower shaped modules with sound and performance.
The VCCA’s annual Commission by former Fellows will be on display for one night only. M. Michel Charbonnier, Consul General de France a Washington, will be the evening’s honored guest. A farm dinner will be served to the tunes of The Duke Merrick Band.
Our drummer stopped too soon but we kept on–
like walking off a cliff across the air.
I played for her and him and others gone,
the wasted dancers hopped a little more.
I must repeat this till I get it right:
at last she feared my nightly transformations.
Her tears for me have cooled to silver bullets.
And this: the hospital clocked his final minute
then old deserted new as per tradition–
all the newborns wailed under the lights.
Dance without drums, love only rhyme,
bury the dead. Living out speech
becomes a job. Rise and brush your teeth.
Work hard, sweat, keep time.
PART OF THE PAST
The pond is at the bottom of a bowl
and the cows love to stand with their udders in it.
The morning fog completely fills the bowl.
We descend into a bowl of milk to retrieve the cows.
This is the past. The dew invades my watch
and whitens the crystal so I can’t see the numbers
but I’m too sleepy to care.
My sister is in the milk barn. Behind us I hear her start the pump
flushing the tubes with soapy water to clean them.
My sister will never have children. There will be
unfair things I will get angry about but this is the past.
Just above our heads, my sister’s boyfriend’s head and mine,
the sun strikes the top of the fog, seeming to thicken, curdle it
and a thrush dives into the fog chasing a moth
he has no trouble seeing.
We scold the cows and twist their tails to make them leave the pond.
They move, move uphill at their own pace, getting into line
in their own social hierarchy.
The last two words remind me of my anger, here on this surface of white page
in the present.
Language applied to time burns away pieces of it.
But which pieces? Humans don’t understand language or time well enough
and we’re always disagreeing. My sister died early
and there’s a lot I don’t know about her.
I am in a city now, surrounded by speech and its results. Suddenly I want
to turn the description off.
I had literary parents, a literary sister and at least five other literary close relatives, so writing literature about my family gets very meta very fast – even when dealing with people I loved very much.
Steady Work deals with my father’s death at a time when my sister was estranged from my parents and me. I thought I could speed the poem up by treating her as a lost romantic love — I also somewhat conflate my own poetry with the more prosaic craft of a dance band. Actually pop music was my main rebellion against my parent’s lofty ideals. I mark the beginning of my return to poetry coming when Mary North, my wonderful high-school poetry teacher and a published poet herself, showed our class some of the poetry in Robert Hunter’s lyrics for The Grateful Dead. Then I went off to writing workshops and discovered people whose parents thought writing poetry whose parents thought writing poetry was the most useless thing one could possibly do.
My sister’s rebellion was to go work on a farm as described in Part of the Past. My parents and I never really knew why she turned against us. My father had some of his lawyer father’s stubbornness, and so did she. (My father, for example, never spoke to his big brother again after they fought in 1968.)
In our youth, my sister and I had periods of being close – I spent a couple of summers with her, bailing hay, shoveling manure — work that was somehow beautiful. My sister had a period of doing way too much LSD. She also had a Dalkon Shield in the 70s that almost killed her then and kept her from having children and ultimately caused her final cancer. Being a single woman, independent farmer in the 80s and 90s may have sent her around the bend as much as the other things.
Today, writing about my literary family, I feel I must speak of my mother’s sister, Jean Justice, who just recently died. She was married to Donald Justice, a great poet and teacher, but she didn’t really start publishing until the last few years, after he was dead. She quickly put out two beautiful books of stories, The End of a Great Party and Family Feeling. The latter book is full of families that define dysfunctionality, but also exemplify how human connections endure. In the end, what else is there?
Ross Taylor, the son of novelist Peter Taylor and poet Eleanor Ross Taylor, is a librarian with The National Library for the Blind at The Library of Congress. His poems and short stories have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly, Gargoyle, Poet Lore, The Texas Review and Blue Moon Review. Ross Taylor and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Falls Church, Virginia.
Of Art Interest in May…
A Consideration of Bees
Featuring art by:
Robin Braun, Elsabe J. Dixon,
Mary Early, Blake Hurt, Matt Lively,
Jason McLeod, Suzanne Stryk,
and Richard Knox Robinson
Reception for the Artists
Friday, May 6th, 5:00 – 8:00 PM
Extra events on subsequent Saturdays
At Chroma Projects, Charlottesville, VA
At our newest Pop-Up location – 853 West Main St., Suite 103
Entrance and free parking(!) around rear of main building chromaprojects.com
434 806 9667
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be one of the boys. No shock there: I grew up in a house with four older brothers, our parents, and several male dogs. My brothers got to run bare-chested in the heat of South Florida summers while I was encumbered with a full t-shirt and eventually (horribly) a bra. (I’d tried walking through the house without a t-shirt when I was 11. It didn’t end well).
My brothers just never seemed bothered by their bodies because nobody ever seemed to be observing them. Perhaps this was because they weren’t developing breasts and curves, an immediate invitation to be teased and humiliated (i.e. training bras tossed into ceiling fans so that they could slingshot across the room).
God, I wanted to be like them.
Instead, I got a body that morphed in weird ways, a lesson in female anatomy that everybody could see and everybody seemed to have a stake in. After puberty, there was no going back to comfortable androgyny. A girl’s life it would be.
It was a life inaugurated by comments from the opposite sex about how I should “do” femininity. Case in point: junior high school gym class. I was still sporting a glorious coat of thick, black leg hair to complement my gym shorts. My square-dancing partner couldn’t take his eyes off my fur or squelch his disgust.
That night, I caved. I decided I had to “girl up.” I told my dad about my troubles and he grinned.
“You’ll always be the ‘Gorilla my dreams’,” he said.
I had to admit, it was pretty funny—and he made up for his insensitivity by teaching me how to shave my legs as I perched on the edge of the bathtub. Then just like that—as Lou Reed says—I went from unacceptably he to properly she.
But that wasn’t the end of it. When I spotted my first chin hair, I knew the cycle was starting all over again. That debut shook even my own capacious sense of femininity.
Chin hair on a woman is not like leg or pit hair. Choosing not to eradicate it doesn’t just make you “crunchy”: it makes you less feminine. Beards are the domain of masculinity–hence the power of face fuzz to decimate womanliness in a single patch of stubble.
It’s not only the male gaze sending me into a shame spiral this time. I’ve witnessed female friends laughing at women who tweeze their chin hairs at stoplights. (Guilty. Where else can you get such good natural light?). They laugh because chin hairs on women are gross, because they are shameful, and getting rid of them should happen behind closed doors at all costs.
If unshaven legs were a bridge too far for me, then undisturbed chin hairs are well beyond the last outpost of femininity. Yet the better part of me understands that sporting chin hair is not my body going wrong.
Girls get hairy. It’s part of our mammalian nature.
It’s part of femininity.
But it’s not exactly what I meant when I said I wanted to be just one of the boys.
After a period of guerilla teaching stints at institutions of higher education, Patrice Calise spends her time contemplating new material for her blog on poetry and literature, writing content for Shmoop.com, and laboring over her novel-in-progress, Sparrow at the Window. She is a dropout of the prestigious doctoral program in English at the University of Virginia and an actual graduate of the Creative Writing program at Florida State University.
American cities can and should be places of civic history and civic virtue. Most are not. My city of Charlottesville is not – despite its progressive government and mostly well-intentioned citizenry. Its monuments to history embed narratives that disrespect large numbers of us. The people represented in its Civil War and Jim Crow statues glorify those who would maintain slavery, fight to divide the American union, and seek to maintain white supremacy by promoting the Lost Cause once the war ended. To become the city that fully justifies its reputation as one of the best places to live in America, these relics of a bygone era must be confronted.
I have a dream that one day Charlottesville will be a beacon to citizens everywhere to unleash our better selves.
Imagine: One day our public monuments to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Confederate soldiers will have the kind of signage, additional statuary, or artistic installations that will cause us to reflect on the unfinished business of this devastating and divisive war.
Imagine: One day our highways and byways will be named for the heroes and sheroes that reflect the higher values of justice, equality, and liberty that we claim to embrace.
Imagine: One day our public spaces will be filled with artistic outpourings – murals, sculpture, videos and other installations that engage our minds to think more deeply about restorative justice and reparation.
The current controversy in Charlottesville over Robert E. Lee and Lee Park is not unique to us. Discussions are occurring across the country over what to do with statues that venerate the Confederacy and its leaders. My dream is that Charlottesville become a model for addressing these issues with civic pride and responsibility. My dream is that our genteel and beautiful city confront this region’s past with boldness. Art can be a wonderful mechanism for engendering conversation.
Imagine: An expanded Art In Place that stretches throughout the city – in public squares, on the downtown Mall, in school playgrounds and cafeterias, on highways, in hospitals and office buildings – and is themed to the history of our city. What would we commemorate? Who would we venerate? How might we engage one around these representations in civil discourse? I hope we will dream big and collectively change the visual narrative that surrounds us.
Phyllis Leffler is an historian recently retired from The University of Virginia. Her specialty is public history. She is the author of Black Leaders on Leadership: Conversations with Julian Bond. In early April, she discussed the issue of historic public monuments on Inside Charlottesville with Coy Barefoot. You may view their interview here.
Streetlight welcomes further discussion on this timely topic. Please add your thoughts and comments.